Tim Hagans – The Moon Is Waiting (2011)

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source: timhagans.com

Of all the living trumpet players performing today, few have accomplished as much as Tim Hagans. He acquired valuable experience playing in bands by Stan Kenton, Thad Jones, Woody Herman and currently, Bob Belden. He led Sweden’s Norrbotten Big Band for fifteen years. He’s performed with Joe Lovano, Horace Parlan, Sahib Shihab, Randy Brecker, Dave Liebman, Peter Erskine, and a host of others. Hagans can shine in all kinds of settings; he’s recorded big band records and pianoless trio dates. He is a major force as a jazz composer, with “Box of Cannoli” earning a Grammy nomination just this year. Two of his albums have also earned Grammy nominations. Did he attend Berkley School of Music? No, he taught there.

As a performer, Hagans is a technician of the highest order, but like all the greats, he knows technique alone doesn’t put you above crowd and make you distinctive. He opts for the same adventurous trails that Miles Davis and Don Cherry fearlessly took, but with a clarity of tone evocative of Freddie Hubbard. “I’m not comfortable making comfortable music,” explains Hagans. And about thirty-seven years after starting this career by joining Kenton’s band, Hagans continues to push out to the edges of his artistry with The Moon Is Waiting, set for release tomorrow, October 11.

This new CD is the first one for Hagans’ new quartet, and this is a very high caliber group. Joining Hagans are Vic Juris on guitar, Jukkis Uotila on drums and a little piano, and Rufus Reid on bass. Each of these plays an equally critical role in the album’s success. Helsinki born Uotila have performed in Hagans’ bands for a long time, and he fits with the trumpet like hand in glove. Architect of propulsive, dynamic grooves, Uotila’s rhythms form the foundation for Hagans’ songs, and per Hagans, “he creates the most incredible wave you can ride like a surfer.” Juris has long earned a reputation as a jazz guitarist’s guitarist, and he can find his place in any session and lift up the whole performance with his acute sense of harmony. For these sessions, Juris plays with a controlled edge, filling in the space left behind by the lack of keyboardist, with a playing style tilting fluidly toward rock or bebop, in snyc with the flow of the song. And Reid’s performance here can be a little surprising to all but his hard core fans: he, too, can adapt well to the fusion grooves even as he sticks with his double-bass throughout, forging interesting rhythmic patterns in tandem with Uotila, whose straight-ahead drumming enables Reid to take flight.

All eight selections, all Hagans originals, are discreet from each other, each representing fully developed ideas that cross liberally across the lines separating bop, fusion and avant garde. “Ornette’s Waking Dream Of A Woman” (video below) is a song with an ambitious title and an ambitious melody. Juris, Uotila and Reid all work in unison on the catlike thematic line, and Hagans handles the task of surfer. Reid and Jarvis break off and create their own impressions as Uotila’s footprint just gets bigger. Juris solos with funky finesse and Hagans’ final solo run in the song finds him sounding as vibrant, inventive and relentlessly jabbing like Miles on “Right Off.” Right at the highest point of tension, the song ends, leaving your ears sweating.

That’s followed by the title cut, a free flowing, swerving majestic series of waves. Uotila and Reid solo underneath and Hagans handling the mournful melody, even screaming through his horn to extend his expression. “Get Outside” springs from a repeating bass line played by Uotila on piano, repeated later with fury by Juris on guitar and Uotila back behind the kit. But the most interesting part is the middle, a humanly one-on-one musical conversation between Hagans and Juris.

“First Jazz” is surprising because it’s so straight ahead, but since all these guys are bop specialists, that doesn’t diminish the entertainment. Hagans comes back with another nifty bassline for “Boo,” named after his father. Full of funk that Reid exploits expertly, this is actually a song Hagans used previously for big band, and turns it into a more immediate, funk-rock gem. Juris reveals his tender side for “What’ll Tell Her Tonight,” and Hagans matches the mood with a sensitive muted horn. “Wailing Trees” is a return to the percussional fury of “The Moon Is Waiting,” this time symbolic of the rage at the lack of help to New Orleans in the wake of Katrina. The closing “Things Happen In A Convertible,” winds through a variety of phases, the highlight being Juris‘ polished fretwork on his solo (and Reid’s ain’t so bad, either).

The Moon Is Waiting, from Palmetto Records, is another exemplary piece of work by Tim Hagans, who excels no matter what challenging settings he sets up for himself and his band. A fourth Grammy nomination would be in order if I had anything to do with that.

Visit Tim Hagans’ website, and when you do, check out the streams of selected tracks from his prior albums, including a big band treatment of “Boo” and that Grammy nominated “Box of Cannoli.”

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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